Tom Parkin, federal politics
As the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau prepares to deliver its first budget in two years, government approval continues to slide, reaching its lowest levels since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey by Innovative Research Group.
Despite sliding approval, IRG's poll showed that among decided voters, the Liberals would receive 39 per cent support, likely enough to win a majority government. The Conservatives' slump continues, with the party led by Erin O'Toole supported by only 27 per cent of voters, down six points from the last election. In an election held today, the Conservatives would likely lose dozens of seats.
The opposition New Democrats held the support of 17 per cent, only slightly ahead of their 2019 election result.
But the IRG survey also mapped out second choice preferences, which suggest the fight between the NDP and Liberals is far more important to the outcome of the next election than the outcome of any conflict between the Liberals and Conservatives.
Among Conservative voters, 50 per cent would state no second choice and 14 per cent reported their second choice would be to vote for the far-right People's Party. Significantly, only one third of Conservatives voters would consider a second choice from among the major political parties.
Only Fourteen per cent of Conservatives say their second choice is the Liberal Party. A slightly smaller 12 per cent would support the NDP as their second choice. These are relatively small slices to fight over.
A much larger group of Canadian voters are potential NDP-Liberal switchers. Among Liberal voters, 36 per cent say their second choice would be the social democratic NDP, three times the 12 per cent of Liberals who say if they switch their vote could go to the Conservatives.
The pattern is similar with New Democrat supporters, 37 per cent of whom say their second choice is the Liberals.
Strategically, the governing Liberals have few votes to win from or lose to the Conservatives. Their major concerns needs to be to prevent momentum -- or disillusion -- moving current Liberal supporters to the NDP.
That fear of losing support to the NDP is surely the central fact behind the Liberals' decision to adopt the opposition NDP's $10 per day childcare plan and make it the centrepiece of their budget. The proposal should play well with young and women voters, a strong demographic among NDP voters.
Whether Liberal-NDP switchers will see the childcare plan as a policy driven by NDP pressure or as a purely Liberal policy may be key to whether the Liberals can use the 2021 budget to grow support -- or whether switchers will see the policy shift as a signal that a strong NDP is needed to keep pressure on the Liberals.